What's a Retina display, and what are the advantages of buying an iPad with a Retina display? In this article we explain the benefits of getting a more expensive iPad with a Retina display, and the reasons for and against doing so. Also see: What is a Retina HD display?
Apple's new iPad mini 2 has come out, but its official name on the Apple website is 'iPad mini with Retina display'. What's the significance of the Retina display?
First of all, bear in mind that Retina display is a proprietary marketing term coined by Apple, rather than an scientific term. It refers to a screen whose pixels are so closely packed that, when held at what Apple considers to be the 'normal' distance from the user's face, you won't be able to make out individual pixels. (Apple expects users to hold an iPad further from the face than an iPhone, so iPhones are expected to achieve a higher pixel density to qualify for Retina status.)
In principle, a Retina display is as good - or at least, as high-resolution - as a screen could ever need to be, since increasing the resolution wouldn't be noticeable by the average human eye.
The full-size iPads with Retina displays are the iPad 3, iPad 4 and iPad Air (of which only the iPad Air is now available new from Apple). The original iPad and the iPad 2 (of which only the iPad 2 is still available) both have non-Retina displays.
Of the mini iPads, the first iPad mini had a non-Retina display, whereas the new iPad mini 2 with Retina display - fairly obviously - does have a Retina display.
The iPad Air has a Retina display, like the two full-size iPads before it. But the iPad 2 doesn't have one.
What are the benefits of a Retina display?
What difference does the Retina display actually make? That depends on what screen resolution you're comparing it to. The iPad 1 and iPad 2 both have a resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels and a pixel density of 132 ppi (pixels per inch). That compares to the 2,048 x 1,536 pixels at 264 ppi on the Retina-class iPads. In other words the pixel density is twice as high. (There are actually four times as many pixels in the same amount of space, but that's a function of area whereas pixel density is a function of length. Try to keep up.)
The difference between the iPad mini and the iPad mini 2 with Retina display is similar. The iPad mini 1 has a screen resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels at 163 ppi, while the iPad mini 2 has a Retina screen at 2,048 x 1536 pixels and 326 ppi - twice the pixel density.
The screens on the iPad 2 and iPad mini 1 are both good-quality screens that are clear, colourful, bright and sharp - if you had only used them, you'd think they were great. But the Retina displays are sharper still, particularly on fine detail - the lettering on books in iBooks or the Kindle app, for instance, are clearly different. We look at the visible differences in our article 'What is a Retina display, and are they worth the money?'
Should I buy an iPad with a Retina display?
Well, the Retina displays are better, there's little doubt about that, but the price tag will be higher (and the iPad is likely to be a bit heavier too, to accommodate the larger battery required to keep a Retina display running for the same amount of time).
Comparing the non-Retina iPad 2 and Retina iPad Air is a complex task, since they are different in so many ways - the iPad Air is actually thinner and lighter, for one thing, since it's a full three generations on from the iPad 2. It's a lot faster and able to cope with much more demanding apps. And it has superior wireless capabilities and far better cameras. With all that on offer as well as the Retina display, it seems like the extra £80 (for the equivalent model - the iPad 2 also has a more restricted range of storage capacities) is well worth it.
The iPad mini 1 and iPad mini 2 have fewer differences. As well as the sharper screen, the iPad mini 2 has a faster processor (the A7 rather than the A5 - the same pair of chips in the iPad 2 and iPad Air), but there are no significant improvements in the physical chassis (in fact, it's slightly heavier) and hardware features. It's up to you to decide if the extra £70 (again, for the equivalent model) is worth it.
We hope this has been helpful. For definitions of more Apple-related terms, take a look at Macworld's glossary of technical jargon.